William Learned Marcy was born on December 12, 1786 in Southbridge, Massachusetts. He was educated at the Leicester Academy and later at Brown University, from which he graduated with high honors in 1808. Marcy then moved to Troy, New York, to commence his legal studies, first in the law office of William M. Bliss and later in the office of John Russell. He was admitted to the bar in 1811.
Marcy had an active law practice in Troy when the War of 1812 broke out, but he immediately volunteered his services to Governor Tompkins and was commissioned as Lieutenant in a company of volunteers stationed on the Canadian frontier. In January 1813, he returned to Troy, resumed his practice, and wrote a series of articles for the Albany Argus justifying the war and defending Governor Tompkins.
The City of Troy was incorporated on April 12th, 1816, and Marcy was designated Recorder of the city, a position he held until 1818. He formed a law partnership with Jacob L. Lane and was considered one of the most able lawyers of his time. In 1821, he became Adjutant-General of the State and was re-appointed Recorder of the city of Troy. He moved to Albany in 1823 when he became New York State Comptroller, a position he held for two terms.
In 1829, he was appointed Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature and, in the course of the next two years, he wrote several influential opinions, the most famous of which involved the alleged murder of a former Freemason (People v. Mather).
William L. Marcy was elected U.S. Senator from New York in 1831 but resigned shortly afterward to become Governor of New York, a position in which he served three terms. In his last term, he became an advocate for the proposed Banking Law, and his loss in the next gubernatorial election was attributed to this. Shortly after his defeat, President Van Buren appointed Marcy to the Mexican Claims Commission. Subsequently, President James K. Polk appointed him Secretary of War, a Cabinet position he held for the duration of that administration. President Franklin Pierce appointed Marcy as Secretary of State in 1853 and he served in this position until his retirement from public life, at the close of the Pierce administration. His retirement was short -- on July 4, 1857, he was found dead in his library with a book in his hand.
Arthur James Weise. Troy's One Hundred Years, 1789-1889 (1891).
William Henry Smith. History of the Cabinet of the United States of America (1925).